An evening that held great promise before the law took over and made it nightmarish…

“What are you guys up to?” I heard somebody shouting to me, rather to us. My friend and I were swigging beer from bottles, and we turned around to see that the authoritative and booming voice emanated from a cop who was rushing towards us brandishing a baton with a subordinate in his wake.

It took me a few seconds to realise that we were breaking the sacred rule, that of drinking alcohol in a public place, something gross in the eyes of society and punishable in the eyes of the law.

Well, we could not do much. Every protest failed to produce the desired effect on the cops and they took us in — I mean we were told to hop into the police jeep.

I told them that we were journalists and as law-abiding citizens of the country as them. It backfired straight away. The senior cop who was driving the jeep retorted by saying it’s only journalists and lawyers who dare to drink in public places — the only people who don’t give a s**t about rules and regulations.

I found the remark a bit funny. We all know what these cops are like, don’t we? I remembered people telling me about their encounters with police, that how they got off with impunity; how they only had to part with a couple of hundred-rupee banknotes to get away with one minor offence or another.

I was hopeful, my friend was not.

He was panicking. He is a quiet guy. Whatever he tried to say didn’t come out of his mouth coherently.

I knew I had to do something. There was no help near at hand. So, I began my defence, I mean our defence. I said we knew we were in the wrong and that we were apologetic but there were much bigger crimes happening in the city and they should expend their energies on them instead. People were getting killed, rapes were rampant etc., etc.

To this, the senior cop said that in the majority of rape cases the perpetrators were drunk. That weakened my argument a great deal. I was shocked. I remembered one story I had read where cops implicated one innocent fellow to save their neck.

They manipulated things in such a way that all fingers pointed at the innocent person. I started getting worried but it was important my face didn’t betray what was going inside my head. Anyway, I said in my response that we were not drunk and that a beer bottle had only five percent alcohol content and that we had only taken a couple of swigs.

By the way, we were still holding our bottles. We wanted to do away with them but one of the cops stopped us from doing that, saying that’s strong evidence against us and we will be photographed with it and that it could be shown in a court of law.

He added he was going to subject us to a few medical tests at the police station and then we might be put in jail for the night. Why he was uncertain over the ‘put in jail’ bit I didn’t know.

Maybe, he was looking for money and after he was successful to that end, he would let us go. That must have been his plan. The jeep seemed to be going nowhere. I mean it was moving but it was moving aimlessly.

Then it was driven to a place where there were no street lights. It was dark, blood-curdling dark. At that moment I realised I shouldn’t have read crime fiction too much because I remembered that I had read somewhere that sometimes police did fake encounters — again to show themselves in a good light. They could’ve labelled us criminals later. This chilled me to the bone.

As I was thinking of all this, suddenly a waft of foul-smelling air rushed into my nostrils and I felt a little faint. I realised we were moving along a canal where the city dumped its filth. This brought another thought to my mind. Probably they were not cops; they were robbers who could also kill if not plied with money. The thought of ending up in the canal as a dead body put me in business mode in the blink of an eye.

My pleadings became all the more urgent and impassioned thereafter. I said we could settle the whole thing among ourselves and that there was no need to go to the police station. For the first time I hinted at a bribe. And to my great joy, both cops didn’t retort this time.

After this encouragement, I kept saying one thing or the other, that they were like our parents and if they let us go without any punishment, we would be eternally grateful and that we will mend our ways. All this while my friend was contorting his face into a shape that couldn’t be explained. I thought I saw something ameboid in his face.

The subordinate who was sitting with us at the back then whispered to me that I should give some money to the cop at the wheel as he was his senior. I took out my wallet and frankly speaking, I would have given all money in it to put an end to the whole drama. Indecisive, I pulled out a 500-rupee note and leaned over the seat to wave it across the face of the cop who appeared to slow down the jeep.

He wagged his head and said he would rather I dealt with his subordinate. His gesture suggested such acts were beneath him. I did as advised. The money changed hands successfully. Suddenly the jeep stopped and the senior cop asked if we had any vehicle with us. I had my car with me that day but out of some unknown fear I lied and instead said I had a motorcycle and that it was parked near the place where they had caught us.

I noticed my reply had produced some guilt and embarrassment in them. The cop at the wheel said, “you should have told us this before. Now we are some distance off; how will you go back there? Have you got any money on you for an autorickshaw or something?” I said we had sufficient money, looking at my friend at the same time, when actually my wallet was spilling over with it. Thank god, it was dark inside the jeep. Who knows they might have asked for more had they seen so much money on me?

Anyway, just as we were preparing to get off, the cop at the wheel admonished us for not finishing our beer. I was really surprised. He said we should finish our beer or else it would be a waste of money, something he didn’t approve of.

We were so worked up and tired that we didn’t dare say anything in return. We gulped down the remaining beer in one go even though it tasted a bit stale. We finally climbed down from the jeep and for the first time I realised that I was dripping with sweat. I must have been scared.

(Readers please note that the story and the incidents here are totally fictitious)

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Prateek Srivastava has been writing sports articles since 2006. However, he believes he belongs in the literary world.

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